Portugal Trip 2018 (1): A Tuesday arrival and introduction to Porto.


I’ve prefaced the travel narrative of our visit to Portugal (which has been backdated) with a series called Focus on Portugal, which provides background on a European destination that’s scandalously little known to Americans.

We knew going in that the rain would be coming down, and I’m not talking about the Ohio Valley in mid-February of 2018.

Rather, I refer to the city of Porto, the second largest in Portugal, where we’d be staying for eight nights (the ninth came in Funchal, Madeira). The forecast called for solid rain from Tuesday through Thursday morning, but then stipulated ideal spring weather the rest of the way.

The flight plan was Louisville – Atlanta – Amsterdam – Porto, and there were no issues. There’s a light rail connection from Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport to a point just a three blocks from our downtown Porto residence, but we opted for a taxi the first time. Later, the light rail proved perfectly workable; it’s connected to a network of buses, for which multi-day passes can be purchased.

The Hotel da Bolsa, our temporary home in Porto, is an old-school hostelry. It’s solid; neither luxurious in the garish contemporary sense, nor down at the heels. I’ve come to appreciate classicism like this.

The hotel is situated only moments by foot from the Ribeira, Porto’s former commercial district, hugging scant flat ground by Douro River, and facing the Port wine lodges (i.e., warehouses) directly across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Our room with a view …

… and just down the hillside amid tulips.

In fact, we had arrived before the room was ready, so bags were deposited in the Bolsa’s luggage room and we went for a walk. Our very first stop was just around the corner at a place called Portologia.

As suggested by my friend Kim Wiesener, it’s an excellent forum to begin sampling Ports. The big revelation for me is that during the last ten years, the notion of aging White Port in much the same way as Tawny has gained traction. Portologia specializes in tastings intended to make this and other points, and it was both educational and tasty.

From there, we walked another block downhill to Ribeira and had Super Bock beers (it’s a typical Eurolager) amid the rowdy Liverpudlians in town for Wednesday’s soccer match in the Champions Cup against FC Porto.

Granted, the venue was touristy, but the genial hawker — a Brazilian who’d lived for a time in New Jersey — was honest in his hucksterism, and temperatures were warm in spite of the drizzle.

By this time the room was ready, so we got acclimated and napped before returning to the waterfront for dinner. Our choice was a joint called Ribeira’s; the prices were cheaper than Benelux but higher than Porto meal fares away from the more heavily touristed areas.

The waiter’s recommendation was grilled cod and octopus with big mugs of Super Bock, and they were fine.

The nighttime views of Vila Nova de Gaia were even better.

All those Port lodges over yonder, so little time. We resolved to do what we could with the days we had, although first, a healthy night’s sleep was needed.

Next: Valentine’s Day in Porto with a market visit and (televised) soccer match.